Kickstarter, the well-known crowdfunding website, has evolved from an art community into a techie shopping center. The website runs on a reward system: a backer of a project is given a prize for pledging support. Some projects offer tangible prizes, such as t-shirts, while others promise little more than the joy of being involved. But for gadget start-ups with prototypes, the promised reward is often the product itself. When users pledge a set amount of cash for a product to be delivered in the future, it looks a lot like a sale, even if Kickstarter stresses that it is not.
Project creators have blurred the lines even further. On their own sites and social networks, creators often provide links to “pre-order” their products on Kickstarter. And the strategy is working. Support of prototypes has set epic records this year. Pebble, an iPhone-syncing watch, raised over US $10 million. The creator eventually had to stop offering the watch itself as a reward. In the previous year, Kickstarter projects raised only $100 million all together.
Some Kickstarter creators don’t even need the funding. The company iCache, creators of the Geode, used Kickstarter predominantly for market research and price setting. Other companies have used the site to attract distributors. Both the Brydge and the Amplifiear are among projects that offered “retail” and “distributor” reward packages.
As gadgets populate the site, browsers tend to think more like shoppers. Creators think about selling to retailers. And distributors search the site for the next thing to buy in mass.